Why are there none of them
Coincidences. Cellular Automata. Free will. Fate.
Essay, Cellular Automata, Free will, Fate.
May 23th, 2015
I believe there are things in the Universe, which are best described as not-coincidences.
The scientists in the crowd might dismiss them, out of sheer logical presumptions, ignoring the fact that Science is only a method, and that it is improvable while not having all the answers right now. One must not kill possible truths out of fanaticism and science-born arrogance. We must remain humble at all times, lest be consumed by an incomplete system, however good it might be.
Let’s say that God works in mysterious ways. Let’s say that the Universe has mysterious workings, which we are constantly trying to decipher. Let’s say that are earnestly walking towards full understanding, it will surely be a never ending path; but at all times the hardest and most rewarding path ever as the roots of knowledge are bitter, but their fruit is sweet.
It is with a great burden towards my own actions, that I will have to hypothetically softly dismiss the workings of our supposed free will. There are a great many things in the Universe which are deterministic. Their current state, however complex it might be, is derived from the previous one.
Let’s picture with the simplest example, that of integers. Every integer follows from a previous integer, give or take one.
1 + 1 = 2
2 + 1 = 3
And so on, ad infinitum...
The algorithm to derive the set of all consecutive integers from a starting point is very straightforward, and completely deterministic.
Out of my own ignorance I must assume that the Universe is no different. Quantum mechanics might tell a different story, but I’m no expert in quantum mechanics. If you are, please fill me in where my gaps abound.
Every atom moves and since time immemorial they have been doing so, colliding with each other, adding their collective movement towards a common reality.
This reality is complex to our eyes and primitive minds. We can only comprehend so much with our limited faculties; we have limited resources to capture a seemingly limitless reality, anything that has a high degree of noise is not intuitively understandable to us. Let’s take for instance the number Pi.
Pi is more or less random, but completely deterministic. Every figure in it derives logically from an algorithm. To our simple minds it can be complex and nonsensical at a glance, but through further study it has meaning, logic, and consistency. We can find Pi’s digits with almost unlimited precision, we “know” Pi.
In a certain way, the Universe is like Pi. However, the Universe has also got randomness, which in Computer Science is obtained via pseudo-random number generators; in a similar fashion to Pi, these algorithms have a pattern and when given an exact initial state they will output the same sequence of numbers. That initial state is the seed of the algorithm and in a similar way we can think of the Big Bang as the seed of the Universe.
But instead of producing a single string of infinite numbers this “Universe Generator” produces the reality in which we live in. This “randomness” we live in, could not be exactly random, perhaps it is entirely deterministic. Yes, I’m talking about fate.
I’m saying that our fates were shaped in the very moment that the physical Universe began, if such a concept exists. I’m saying that the initial layout of primitive particles already contained, in their arrangement and rules, the fate of the physical Universe.
Now, using Pi as an example won’t suffice, now I need something less one-dimensional. Now I need cellular automata.
For the uninitiated, cellular automata are systems of very simple rules on some sort of checkerboard pattern.
This image might be complex, but the rules are indeed simple. At a glance, you can see there are repeating patterns; there are also small islands of similarity; and what seems to be chaos. But is it really chaotic? Isn’t this completely deterministic? Is it not following rules? This example here is known as rule 30.
These diagrams are merely stating that for any black cell with two black neighbors its next state will be white. Since a cell with neighbors only left and right can have only 8 different combinations of them, there’s only 8 patterns to watch for. It seems to me complexity can’t get more straightforward than this.
Another interesting feature of cellular automata is that some of them are Universal; they can compute things, such as other cellular automata. Its Universality allows them to emulate ANY system.
But let’s not get lost in the details. Let’s go back to the point, to the literal point where it all began. Let’s picture a small black dot in a sea of nothingness, this dot has a nature of its own and is fated to respond to its surroundings in a consistent way. For instance, if a small set of “space” next to it is empty, it will grow into it.
This dot lives in a really weird place, there not just space to its left or its right, there’s space everywhere; even in dimensions not perceivable to us. Not just width, height or depth, but time, gravity and who knows what else. Its space is n-dimensional.
This dot, this black dot placed in a sea of white nothingness, reacts to it and grows. Its insides react to themselves also, and create their own patterns, which rapidly unfold and keep interacting.
The dot is no longer small or black, it now contains primitive forms, clouds, colors, shapes and more. It keeps growing and those shapes interact with themselves generating new shapes. Each and every single interaction follows the same rules as the first seed dot. Each, and every, single, one, of them.
Interactions add up, and suddenly we’re amidst a Universe out of its own activity. Its physics are embedded into its DNA, into those rules that allowed for its creation. Those physics build layers of its own, by configuring systems among their patterns; they shape small Universal machines out of their own parts, it builds chemistry; the machines are not perfect, they succumb to wearing and defeat. They learn to reproduce, to survive, and now we have biology. Biology continues its course, it begets consciousness, and now you’re reading this.
Have you realized how this is not a coincidence? How this... you reading these words is already fated into those rules, into that beautiful, magnificent and platonic mathematical seed of world? That this seed of Universe contains all the necessary preconditions for you to read this, have you realized that?
Do you believe you, a small and pitiful creature like me, have ANY power whatsoever in this contraption? No, you haven’t. Don’t lie to yourself. Your mind is a machine, just like the Universe that gave birth to it. It is only following its clockwork, there’s NOTHING you can do about it. NOTHING.
How “free” is your free will if it can be shut down? Whether it is from mind-altering substances or simply losing or damaging the neurons needed for “it” to work. Don’t you see how it depends on something to work?
Something which can override its workings or shut them down altogether, a nature of itself that has been shaped through natural selection to favor its own survival. Our “free will” has no direct access to its own mechanics, it is designed by nature not to.
The same ironic nature that has led many to “believe” that through their “own” actions they can improve their situation in the game of life. No, don’t be puzzled, that’s not YOUR decision; it’s just genes playing their selfish game of survival through you. COERCING your “free” will into “believing” that you took that decision. Don’t feel bad. It seems we are helpless, floating in a seemingly chaotic void, trying to get a hold, a grasp on a reality that is beyond our comprehension. A reality on which we are fated to exist, and ceasing to do so. A reality on which even perhaps our OWN actions do not belong to us. We’re just spectators, small eyes and souls of a Universe watching itself unfold.
Don’t you realize how devilishly smart all of this is? How incredibly beautiful, kind and cruel at the same time? We “live”, we exist, on a remarkably intelligent thing. One that seems to owe itself no explanation whatsoever.
One in which every rule in every possible n-dimensional cellular automaton is being explored, because, if this Universe out of all Universes exists, why not others? Absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence.
It is then, that we could possibly assign the faculty of agency to the creative force that drives this Universe, and willfully declare that there are no such thing as coincidences.
It seems to have been that this was already written, by something we cannot fully understand, that this specific platonically mathematical seed of Universe contained the conditions for a “coincidence” to happen.
If the mysterious creative force of the Universe has agency, the algorithm for making “coincidences” happen is simple; it is only a search function, one that explores different Universes and their intrinsic rules until reaching one where it holds true, therefore “forcing” that “coincidence” to happen.
Yet, and even yet, something as powerfully mysterious as that creative force has limitations; and these are that even in the abstract space of all what’s possible in the platonic mathematical universe there will be patterns that can’t be avoided. Coincidences, so big, that even that mysterious creative force, that... God, can’t go around them. In the same way that Pi always starts with three, and three comes after two; there are constants, patterns that are written to happen in the absolute language of math, patterns that will always arise no matter the starting point.
If even that... God can’t escape from coincidence, from mathematical fate, what good is it to think that that time-space fact, the coincidence, was caused or not by an entity with agency? Because that’s the real question here.
It is not that the Universe has processes that are described by math; because yes, they are, and it works... too well, unreasonably too well. But when we look further into matter, and find that atoms are almost all empty space, with a really tiny nucleus with even tinier quarks; particles so small that some of their “virtual” properties do not manifest themselves beyond that really small scale. At scales so beyond what we can perceive, that things are best described to be confined in a probabilistic way, in the form of equations. It is picturing that, that we might think that reality is, after all, an expression of mathematics; and nothing else.
There seems to be a plan, for each and every atom under and beyond the sky, interlocking each and every piece in a gigantic jigsaw, building a cohesive existence.
It is then that I believe that all things in the Universe, are best described as not-coincidences.